By: Robert McGuire
So … hang on.
Baker Company had been given the task of clearing and securing the town. Able and Charlie had done the assault and were being tended to by the medics. I didn’t mind. Hell, they needed a break. I saw the gate fall and I heard the firefight from outside the walls. Apparently some of the boys had to hole up in some alleyways, firing by rotation to conserve ammo and keep a steady stream of fire going. The garrison here had refused to surrender, even when it was clear that we were winning and they perished to a man.
Was it worth it?
I don’t know. It’s just what they chose to do.
This new king that we’re fighting, he’s something. Every time we come upon a city held by his followers, they refuse to surrender and keeping fighting us. Chaser even had to kill a few kids. He hasn’t been the same since. We don’t know what the hell the guy does to these people, but they simply won’t take an easy way out. It’s like death or victory are their only options. I just don’t get it.
We’re winning this war. To call it a rebellion isn’t really fair to any other rebellion in history. Other rebellions at least manage to win some battles. They’ve won none. I don’t think any of their people even wear combat armor when fighting us. Its like they want to die.
Anyways, we took Carventan. And now Baker’s on clean up. I’m with Sergeant Richard “Bull” Halden, and privates Joseph Leinz and David “Merry” Merriam. I’m Private George Masters. And this is the story of the Temple.
* * * * *
At least, that’s what we came to call it, the Temple. There wasn’t any other word for it. None that would fit it so well. Where to begin? Well, I’ll start with how we found the Temple. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve tried to forget this day. Doc Boe says the easiest way for me to try and get over this thing is to try and trivialize it. That’s why I’m telling you. Trust me, I don’t like telling this story. But it does get easier each time, so, I guess Doc’s right.
Anyways, where was I? Right, the entrance. So, us four were in this barn. It was a typical kind of barn, lots of hay on the floor, sacks of flour and farm equipment on the walls. Very boring. We were all walking through, heads on a swivel, rifles at the ready, quick as you like, when Joe steps funny. Well, not funny, just … Mind if I smoke?
You do? Well, you got anything stiff around here. I never like telling this part. Or anything else much.
Sacra? Yeah, I’ll have some.
Anyways, Joe steps on some floor boards and the Bull notices that they make a weird kind of hollow sound. He always noticed stuff like that.
What? No, he’s still alive, just not here, ya know.
Well, they all sounded normal to us, you know. Wood sounds like wood. But he had Joe step on the same spot and we heard it then too. It sounded deeper. So we started looking around the place. Merry found the hatch. He lifted it up and Bull had me call it in. Two full squads showed up to guard the entrance, just in case, ya know. So, anyways, Joe is lead scout, so he goes in first. We got our rifles in one hand, lampacks in the other.
We’re in this tunnel thing. It’s a natural thing, cut by water, or rain, or something. Lines on the walls are too smooth and worn to be from humans. But the ground, it’s really worn. People have been using it for some time. Get’s me and everyone thinking it might be some kind of secret passage in and out. We can’t risk the enemy coming in on us with our pants down so we keep going. Need to find out where it lets out. Joe starts telling us how he knew the town was too empty. Said it never sat well how there were so many buildings and such a small garrison. What he’s saying makes sense. It wasn’t like we were facing an army when we stormed the place, but there were a lot of the buggers that were here.
Anyways, we go a ways and then Sarge tells us to shut our eyes and turn off our lampacks. We didn’t know what the hell he was doing, but we did it. When he told us to open them. We could still see. There’s light up ahead of us.
Now, people can’t see in full dark, well, people I know can’t. Can you? No? See what I mean? There was a light, now we’re all thinking that around the next bend we’ll be in a classic shoot out for the tunnel. But as we turn the corner, the tunnel goes on a little longer. But we can see that it definitely ends up ahead. Joe’s up ahead. He signals for us to hold up, so we do. We don’t know what he’s about, but something’s got him spooked. And I ain’t ever seen Joe spooked before. Bull goes forward and takes a look. He’s stunned, but he waves us forwards. It’s nothing hostile, otherwise Joe would’ve told us. What I saw down there, it … .
It’s gonna stay with me the rest of my life.
You ever been to a church? You know how it feels, like … silence isn’t needed, but it’s a good idea if you’re not singing praises. Yeah, well, that what this place felt like. It was nothing but silent. And … at first I thought it was a church, but no. This … this was something else. The best way to generalize it would be a temple. So, that’s what we came to call it.
When Merry and I got down there … It was something else. The tunnel we were in came out on the left side of this temple thing. We were looking over all these rows of benches. Looked like people in church, in the middle of their service. All the benches were full of people, but none of them were looking at us. And it was quiet. Like, beyond quiet. It just didn’t feel natural, you know? So, anyways, we’re looking out over the temple, and it’s got an altar at the top that all these people are bowing their heads to. Maybe they were praying that if they were silent enough we wouldn’t notice them and would leave their temple alone. Well, that’s what I thought then. I never hated being so wrong in my life before.
Joe was the one that noticed the blood. He just pointed to it. It was thick on the ground. You know how when it rains for a while, the ground just has enough water on it so that it’s like you’re walking in one giant and shallow puddle. Like your every step is in the water, but yer feet don’t get wet through yer shoes? Yeah, it was like that. That’s when it hit Bull that they were all dead. He hand signed it to us. No one wanted to speak here. I can’t say why, but it … yer gonna laugh or think I’m crazy for saying this, they all do … but it felt like there was something in there, and if we made any noise it would notice us. Just then Joe sneezed. He muffled it, but it still echoed like crazy. That’s when I felt eyes on me.
I half expected the people to turn and look at us. But they didn’t. It was weird. There were all kinds of people there. Men, women, children, old folks, all of ‘em. And all of ‘em were in their Sunday finest, too. But none of them were lookin’, so I don’t know what was looking at me. Still don’t. But I felt it.
The walls of the place were white, like they had purposefully been carved smooth and there were banners hung on the walls. Some of them I recognized. They had the symbol of the rebs, red striping on a black field. The rest had other symbols, or whole, I don’t know, messages on them in a different language none of us knew. But so, we got started looking around and I notice the lights of the place. None of ‘em are on. But, there are fires in these bowl things and lit on candles. The flames were black.
Yes, they were.
No, I don’t mean red. I don’t mean blue, I don’t mean yellow, or green, or purple, I mean black. B-L-A-C-K. The hearts of the flames were white and then they went gray, but the flames were definitely not right. We should have blown the entrance and gotten the hell outta dodge then. You ever have the hairs on the back of yer neck stand up?
Yeah, well, it was a first for me. Something wasn’t right. But Sarge gets bold and stands up. He looks over the area. No one’s there. He turns back to us and whispered “Alright, anyone wanna hold this?”
He’s holdin’ up his auto. He wanted to go in there and check it all out. Knew that Command would want all the intel we could nab. But, well, none us could hold that monster he carries. God alone knows how he can. Damn thing’s near as tall as he is. And the kick on it!
Anyways, Joe’s so skinny the damned thing would blow him over before he could get off a shot. I’m no good with the damn thing and Merriam’s a worse shot than me at it. Sarge is looking at me. He knows I’m the best pick for it. But I know if it comes down to them being saved by my shooting or his with the damn thing, he’d better be the one doing the shooting. So, he stays at the tunnel entrance while we three go in. We set foot along this walkway to the altar. There was some room for us to go across, if we were careful and had good balance. None of us wanted to get our feet in that blood.
But as we’re moving, I can still feel those eyes on me. When I get to the platform with the altar on it I look out at the congregation, but I can’t see nothin’. No one’s looking at us. So, we make our way over to the platform. I’ve got a flamer slung on my back, you know those are good in cave fights. And it’s getting real tempting to skin that thing, torch the place and skip out. But we didn’t. I’ve still got my carbine in hand, my lampack’s in the other. I put it away. Joe’s up at the altar, scanning for anything up front. Merriam’s up next, and I’m bringing up the rear of our merry band of misfits.
As we get up to the altar and determine the place is empty, we wave to Bull to signal the all-clear. He nods, but he don’t lower his weapon none. We all got this sense. You tend to get it when you’ve been a soldier this long. You can feel when there’s danger near by. You can’t place where it is, or what it’ll be, but you know it’s there. Sarge’s sense musta been goin’ mad. His eyes were everywhere and his gun kept tracking over the crowd.
But anyways, we get up to the altar and Merriam notices a book on it. Merry’d been to college before this war all started.
I don’t know what he studied. Seems kinda stupid, now. Not to have asked. Shoulda asked him. He was always quoting random facts and shit at us. He was a damn vault of useless information. Is that what college does? Teach you useless information?
No? You sure? They teach you anything useful off at college?
They did? What?
Naw, that’s not what I mean. Nevermind, forget it.
Anyways, so, Merry, he knows a couple a things about books and language. He was one of our translators. So, was Joe, but he wouldn’ta cared about any books we found. So, Merry sees this book and he ain’t touchin’ it. I mean, none of us were touchin’ nothin’, none us like even being up there. I thought there were gonna be some damn mines underneath the floorboards my sense was going off so bad. But, Merry knows he’s gotta take a look in this book, so he slings his rifle and pulls out his side-arm. He flips the cover and starts flipping through pages with his gun. It’s all in that weird gibberish language on the banners. Joe’s lookin’ out at all of ‘em and he starts whisperin’ to us. “How’d they die?”
And we don’t know. But the bodies seem kinda fresh. I mean, the air don’t stink, and the blood was black, but that coulda been the flames and these folks, their clothes ain’t rotted through. Near as we can tell they all just happened to fall asleep at the same time and never woke up.
But I get up behind him and I take a look behind us at the wall all these dead folks are facin’. It’s got some other symbol on it. Now, this is where things get crazy. I’m looking at this symbol, but it … it’s … how to describe it? It’s slippery on my eyes. Like, I can’t look right at it, and when I do it hurts like a mother. But I can tell you this, it’s something I’ve never seen before in my life, but it looked familiar. Crazy, right? And then there’s this stuff written beneath it. I didn’ have to get close to know it was blood it was written in.
“Merry?” I says. “Merry? What’s it say up there?” Now, I know some of the Old Tongue, but not a lot. Now, Merry. He’s a goddam dictionary. So he takes a look at it and he reads the sentence to me, it says something like “For your sins, you will be redeemed.” Or some psycho, babble bullshit like that. But as soon as he says this, this voice comes booming out of nowhere.
There aren’t no speakers, no radios, no horns, nothin’. Near as we can tell this voice is coming out of the air. And it’s loud, and deep. I mean I’ve never heard anything so loud in my entire life. Not even RT going off. And this voice it says to us, it sighs and then it says “Welcome! We’ve been expecting you!” It said some other shit, but I wasn’t listenin’ then. I’m looking all over the walls for a speaker, or coms, or something to explain this and shoot out. But all I can tell is the voice is in the air around us and it’s happy we’re there. And we are getting the shit scared out of us.
So, I look to Merry and he’s looking off to the right and I look over and Joe’s already got his scrawny little ass half way back to Sarge. I never seen Joe run so fast in all my life, not even when he was being chased by that tank a few weeks back.
I ever tell you that story?
Some other time then?
Ok, so, where was I … Ah, yeah … . So, this voice starts chanting in a language I don’t know and I’m freaking out. The Bull’s yelling to us. I don’t know how we heard him. He’s yelling, “We gotta get the hell outta here fellas!” But, so, If we’re leaving, I ain’t leaving without torching the damn place because … I don’t know. It felt like the only way to get rid of all the shit in there. So, I yell back, “No! We gotta burn it first!” And I pass my carbine to Merry while I start to get my flamer primed.
Well, let me tell you, that voice heard me and it got quiet in there. It was quiet before, but this was something awful. And Merry and I, we look out at the silence and see all those dead faces looking back at us. They all woke up!
Yeah, I know, right? Craziest day I ever been through.
So, now, I’m about ready to just let my heart give out and my body seizes up in terror. Yeah, I got no problem admittin’ that. I was scared. I never been so scared in all my life. But when I tightened up, the trigger on my flamer went and poof. That book on the altar went up like a house o’ cards. Foom! And that voice starts screaming in pain. It’s wailing like a babe and screaming! And that snapped me back. So, I turn and start bathing the walls an’ that symbol with the writing under it. It’s catching all right an’ it’s all burning pretty as you like. Merry’s shooting both his gun an’ mine now. So, I turn to give support and the dead things are all starting to shuffle towards us. They’re slow, but they have got the numbers on us. So, I yell to Merry, I yell, “We gotta move! Now!”
And he ain’t arguing with me. As we’re running I’m torching the path behind us, so that stage goes up real nice. Made of an old dry wood. Couldn’ta asked for better stuff. But these things. These dead things, as they come at us, I see knives stickin’ out of their stomachs. They all stabbed themselves.
I mean, what the hell is that? Why would the do that? I … I just don’t know. I don’t want to.
But, so, these things, they pull the knives out and start coming at us with the knives. They mighta been dead, but they was still smart. We make a run for the ledge that got us to the stage, but it’s too narrow to run, so we gotta run through the blood. As soon as we stepped in that stuff, I swear, it grabbed us.
I’ve always been a good runner, but not even mud coulda drag me down like this. It held us. Bull was hammering the damned things tryna to get to us with his auto and he was makin’ good work of it. When we got close enough, Joe gave us his hand, pulled us up. I gave a burst with the flamer as those things got near. They kept coming, even burning. I mean, no pain and they’re smart? What the hell is this!? But I gave a burst on the ground at the blood and cooked some of it off and then I heard the voice scream in pain. So, I pull out one of my incendiary grenades and throw it in the middle of the blood pool and Foom! It’s screamin’ again and the other guys follow my idea and we start pitchin’ those grenades as much as we can.
So, when we runs outta grenades, the Bull says to fall back so we start backing up the tunnel and these damn things are still coming. They won’t back off. We’re hosin’ ‘em with bullets and frag-grenades and my flamers dry from all the use. Let me tell ya, it was a godsend when we got to the trap door. The fellas up there was confused as hell. Had no idea what we were going on about. But Bull tells ‘em to lay in a enough charges to collapse the thing and they throws in all they got simple enough, and as we start the blow the thing, the first of the dead things is there.
There was this replacemen’ kid there, Johnny Heddron. I’ll never forget the look on his face. It was a kid that was crawling up at him, gnashing its teeth, blood on itself, knife in hand. And he fires nice as you like and takes the thing out, but his face. I … I saw part of him die right there. And that … it don’ leave you.
We blew the hole and burned the barn. Bull tried to convince Command to torch the whole damned city. They didn’t listen. Turns out we weren’t the only ones to encounter such a thing. A few towns over Dog, Easy and Fox companies ran into a group of the walkers. But … they knew … we warned ‘em about such stuff.
Me and the rest of the boys. We ain’t been the same since. Bull … he, uh, he and Joe … they uh, they’re real quiet now. Drink a lot. Merriam went to a hospital some days later, fell asleep and never woke up. They found the pills next to him later. I guess he couldn’t handle it. And me, well, I’m here with a Section 8. Can I go now, doc?
The boys need me out there. Don’t know what we’re gonna run into today.